My earlier research with colleagues in Islamabad indicated very high levels of sexual harassment in Pakistan using mobile phones, both in traditional ways for calls and texts, and also through access to online social media. Evidence from other parts of the world also suggests that similar high levels are to be found in many countries with different cultural backgrounds and social structures, However, there have been very few cross-cultural comparisons using the same methodology. Together with Dr. Bushra Hassan from Pakistan, we are therefore using a similar online survey instrument to explore perceptions and experiences of the use of mobile devices in the Caribbean and in India (Hindi; English).
Despite the support of more than 50 organisations and individuals across the Caribbean, for which many thanks are due, responses to the survey have been lower than we had hoped. However, we are reporting our preliminary findings here in part to encourage further responses to the survey that will then enable us to undertake a more rigorous statistical analysis of the data.
Key findings include the following:
Perceptions of sexual harassment through mobile devices in the Caribbean
- More than half of the sample think that all types of harassment are common in the Caribbean. Sexual harassment, though, is the most common type of harassment, and 47% of the sample considered it to be very frequent
- Women are perceived to be harassed much more than men, although men are also harassed; 46% of the sample considered that women were very frequently harassed through their mobile devices.
- The most common reasons for sexual harassment are considered to be because social factors encourage it and it is a way of controlling someone
- Messaging apps and social media are perceived as being the main ways through which people are sexually harassed through their mobile devices, although phone calls and text messages are also common.
- A wide range of people are seen as being responsible for sexual harassment, including strangers and people in positions of responsibility. However, the most common perpetrators are perceived as being a former partner, someone known to the person other than a family member, and a current partner.
- In the Caribbean, when a man is sexually harassed 40% of the sample think a women is usually to blame, and 36% think a man is usually to blame. When a woman is sexually harassed, 74% of respondents thought that a man was usually to blame and 36% thought another woman was usually to blame. A major difference between Pakistan and the Caribbean is that when a woman was harassed through her mobile device in Pakistan, 54% of the sample thought that she was sometimes or always to blame, whereas only 29% of the Caribbean sample thought that the woman being harassed was to blame.
- Another striking difference between Pakistan and the Caribbean was in the impact of such harassment. In the Caribbean, 62% of the sample claimed to know someone who had suffered depression as a result of sexual harassment through a mobile device, but only 13% knew someone who had committed suicide, and only 2% someone who had been killed because of honour. In Pakistan 53% of respondents claimed that they knew someone personally who had tried to commit suicide as a result of sexual harassment through their mobile devices, and a shocking 52% of respondents claimed to know someone who had been killed because of a loss of honour as a result of sexual harassment through mobile devices.
Experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices in the Caribbean
- Around 44% of the Caribbean sample said that they had been sexually harassed through their mobile devices (and 92% of these were women), and their experiences were rather different from the perceptions of harassment noted above.
- In reality only 27% of these people were harassed frequently or very frequently by a former partner, whereas 42% were frequently or very frequently harassed by someone known to them other than a family member, and 46% frequently or very frequently by a stranger.
- It is also interesting that many people keep silent about their harassment; 43% sometimes or always keep silent. When they do tell people about it, it is nearly always with friends rather than family or people in authority.
- Interestingly, respondents who had been sexually harassed in the Caribbean seemed to have more robust reactions than did those in Pakistan, who often felt guilty or ashamed. In the Caribbean, 67% said that they had never felt guilty, but 60% said that that sometimes or always felt stressed by it, 76% said that they sometimes or always felt angry, and 71% sometimes or always developed mistrust of others
- There were fascinating and contrasting views about whether sexual harassment was worse when done in person or through a mobile device. Two examples of comments from respondents reflect this difference:
- “Being harassed through my mobile devices is worse in my experience because it has always been by people that I know. Harassment from a stranger has never hurt as much or made me as fearful as harassment from people that I know. The harassment that I have experienced via mobile devices has also been much more explicit and violent than what I have experienced in other ways”.
- “I feel worse when the sexual harassment is done in person. Mobile I can hide and ignore, while in person I feel stripped and ashamed and uncomfortable and become self conscious”
These are some of the headline findings of our research, but we need many more responses to be able to undertake appropriate statistical analysis of the results that will help us to dig beneath the surface and explain why some of these patterns exist. The highest levels of responses have been from Guyana, the Cayman Islands and Trinidad and Tobago, and so we would particularly encourage responses from other parts of the region. We are also very aware that mobile devices are just one of the ways through which sexual harassment exists. However, it is an additional and very prevalent means, and we need to be aware of the extent that it is used to cause misery and oppression.
If you have not already done so, please complete the survey at https://rhul.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/sexual-harassment-through-mobiles-in-the-caribbean and encourage others to do so as well. Thanks very much!